8:27am PT by Eriq Gardner
Lawsuit Targeting Netflix's 'Narcos' Narrowed to Pablo Escobar's Intimacy With a Gun
Pablo Escobar. A revolver. And a loving caress. Some things may be generic ideas, but according to a federal judge Friday, this scene from Netflix's Narcos could plausibly add up to copyright infringement.
The plaintiff in the case is Virginia Vallejo, an important figure in Escobar's life who documented her experience with the notorious Colombia drug lord in a memoir, Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar. In the 1980s, she was a notable television journalist in the country who struck up a relationship with Escobar, helped his brief foray into politics and ultimately cooperated with Colombian and United States authorities.
Vallejo is suing Netflix and Gaumont Television over Narcos, which she alleges misappropriated expression from her memoir and caused viewers to be confused about her association with the show.
On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge K. Michael Moore in Florida rejected most of her claims.
But first, here's what survives.
Vallejo "alleges that a scene in Narcos Season One, Episode Three infringes on a chapter of the Memoir entitled 'La caricia de un revolver,'" writes the judge. "Plaintiff states that from approximately minutes 4:00 to 5:15, the character Valeria Velez (the character allegedly based on Plaintiff) has an intimate encounter with Pablo Escobar that involves a revolver, and that this encounter infringes on the original expression in the Memoir. While Plaintiff does not provide the specific details of the scene in Narcos that allegedly infringed on the Memoir, Plaintiff does allege that this scene involves a unique expression–namely, an intimate encounter that involves a revolver. While copyright protection does not extend to ideas it is plausible that Defendants infringed on Plaintiff’s expression with respect to this scene."
On the other hand, Vallejo can't carry copyright claims against two other scenes.
One involves Escobar introducing Vallejo to his wife at an early civic event that propelled Escobar into politics. Moore writes that Vallejo hasn't done much to distinguish the expression at issue. As the opinion states, "The alleged portrayal of Escobar’s wife as cold and uncomfortable is nothing more than scenes a faire."
The other recounts the infamous M-19 raid on Colombia’s Palace of Justice. Vallejo alleges that at the time she published her memoir, there was no proof that Escobar had contributed to the siege. Vallejo provided some evidence in the form of a meeting between Escobar and a M-19 figure.
Here's the problem.
"Plaintiff does not allege that Narcos misappropriated any expression, beyond facts, in this episode," writes the judge.
Moore then goes through the Lanham Act claims, the ones based on how Narcos producers allegedly falsely suggested her sponsorship, but the judge notes that there is no allegation that defendants falsely suggested she was a producer of the series. "At most, Plaintiff alleges that others were confused by Plaintiff’s association with the show, but does not attribute this confusion to Defendants’ conduct," writes the judge, also rejecting a false endorsement claim based on the First Amendment "because the Valeria Velez character is artistically relevant to Narcos and not explicitly misleading."